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Nutcracker Suites: Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn, Piotr Tchaikovsky

Nutcracker Suites: Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn, Piotr Tchaikovsky

by Steven RichmanSteven Richman




Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington devoted major efforts over the last three decades of his life to pieces that were, if not entirely "classical" in inspiration, at least composed upon the canvas of Western concert music. The setting of the "Nutcracker Suite" that he composed with Billy Strayhorn has been among the most popular of these efforts, but it, like the Duke's other concert works, remains somewhat underappreciated. It is a bit startling that, as conductor Steven Richman observes in his booklet notes, that the Ellington/Strayhorn "Nutcracker" has apparently never until now been paired with the Tchaikovsky version on a single album. Doing so pays a lot of dividends, even if the Tchaikovsky suite, played by New York's Harmonie Ensemble, is extremely unorthodox. The group is small and plays the work in a boxlike small hall; they get the notes, but the century's worth of familiar phrasing that has accumulated over a century and a quarter of glittering symphony orchestra versions is largely absent. But it is fascinating hearing these two works side by side, and the juxtaposition brings out how entirely original the Ellington/Strayhorn arrangement is. Even the packaging proclaims that Richman and the Harmonie Ensemble are reviving the art of "swinging the classics" here, but that's not quite what Ellington and Strayhorn were up to. Tchaikovsky's addictive tunes do not appear in the jazz version in the way that Bach's do in, for example, the Modern Jazz Quartet's Bach recordings. Instead, Ellington and Strayhorn dissect Tchaikovsky's orchestration and refract it through jazz layers. (Compare the "Peanut Brittle Brigade" march with its Tchaikovskian original for a taste, and a fresh appreciation that Richman makes possible here.) Ellington and Strayhorn provide less a jazz version of Tchaikovsky than a jazz-cubist version, and this release provides an invaluable handbook to its understanding.

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Product Details

Release Date: 10/08/2013
Label: Harmonia Mundi
UPC: 0093046749323
catalogNumber: 907493
Rank: 102653


  1. Overture
  2. March
  3. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy
  4. Trépak (Russian Dance)
  5. Arabian Dance
  6. Chinese Dance
  7. Dance of the Mirlitons (Reed Flutes)
  8. Waltz of the Flowers
  9. Overture
  10. Toot Toot Tootie Toot (Dance of the Reed-Pipes)
  11. Peanut Brittle Brigade (March)
  12. Sugar Rum Cherry (Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy)
  13. Entr'acte
  14. The Volga Vouty (Russian Dance)
  15. Chinoiserie (Chinese Dance)
  16. Danse of the Floreadores (Waltz of the Flowers)
  17. Arabesque Cookie (Arabian Dance)

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Steven Richman   Primary Artist,Conductor
George Cables   Piano
Bill Easley   Clarinet,Tenor Saxophone
Lew Soloff   Trumpet
Lew Tabackin   Tenor Saxophone
Victor Lewis   Drums
Scott Robinson   Clarinet,Alto Saxophone,Bamboo Flute
Art Baron   Trombone
Curtis Fowlkes   Trombone
Mark Gross   Alto Saxophone
Ron Jannelli   Bass Clarinet,Baritone Saxophone
Bob Millikan   Trumpet
Wayne Goodman   Trombone
Bobby Lavell   Tenor Saxophone
Steven Bernstein   Trumpet
Hassan Shakur   Bass
Harmonie Ensemble New York   Ensemble

Technical Credits

Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky   Composer,Original Material
Duke Ellington   Composer
Will Friedwald   Liner Notes
Billy Strayhorn   Additional Music
Robina G. Young   Executive Producer
Geneviève Begou   Liner Note Translation
Karin Elsener   Graphic Design,Cover Illustration
Heidi Fritz   Liner Note Translation
Steven Richman   Producer,Liner Notes,Concept

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